I've never understood why a city with two great rivers (and few other beauty spots) should have had no riverside restaurants with views (two that I remember used their riverside space as parking lots).
So bravo to Cibo, for taking an early 20th-century heritage building (the former intake facility for the old steam-heating plant) and turning it into this stunning venue -- a narrow, light-filled room, with a more open, raised area at the far end, which is calmer than the noisier front of the restaurant.
They've done right by the decor, too. Some of it is a holdover from those olden days -- high ceilings, mellow brick walls and some old pumping utensils suspended from the ceiling; some of it is modern or, rather, retro, as in the hanging clear-glass filament bulbs. The tables are solid and well-spaced, and the dark brown, leather-like armchairs are comfortable.
But the most dramatic aspect of the setting is the almost total surround of windows, every one of which offers a view of the river, and which alone would make Cibo worth a visit. The ambience is so lovely you desperately want the food to be good, and, fortunately -- apart from certain lapses -- much of it is.
The menu is quite short, with only a few selections in each category, and not all of them are available at all times. One of the most interesting-sounding starters -- for me, at least -- was the lamb meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce, but it was unavailable, both at an early midweek lunch and at an early Saturday night dinner ($15, should it ever turn up). Unsurprisingly, the lamb- and mint-topped pizza was another no-go ($18).
That said, the appetizer of beef bourguignon poutine was excellent. Bourguignons in their classic stew form have sometimes been stringy disappointments, but this one was delicious, over crisp matchstick fries and smoked cheese -- a huge portion that might defeat two, and a good buy at $11. The only other starters are fried cheese-filled arancini rice balls, an antipasto of assorted meats and cheese and house-marinated olives with cheese ($11 to $15).
Another top choice was our Cibo pizza, about 10 inches on an ultra-thin crust, topped by prosciutto, Genoa salami, capicola (with a decided bite to it) and a fried egg. The egg part may sound odd, but it worked, and was soft enough to spread over the pie, adding another layer of flavour ($18). Other toppings are the Margherita (buffalo mozzarella with tomato sauce), cambazola with pear and prosciutto, drunk mushrooms with pecorino, and salmon with pesto ($15 to $19).
Pasta carbonara was another success, an almost classic version with bacon, egg yolk and pecorino cheese -- the non-classic sprinkling of chili will be omitted on request ($15). It could also have used more, and bigger, pieces of bacon, but what was there was good. The only other listed pasta is tagliatelle Bolognese in a beef and tomato sauce ($16).
Most items on the menu cost less than $19, with two exceptions listed in the Grill section. The crisp-skinned salmon was moist and flavourful, although for my taste, the admittedly tasty Puy lentils weren't a good match ($29). However, the most expensive item -- a rib-eye with prawns (i.e. shrimp) -- was a staggering $35 disappointment. Usually the safest and most flavourful of steaks, this rib-eye was tough and sinewy, and the shrimp, although big and juicy, were heavily over-salted.
Also under the Grill section is a burger ($14). It was adorned with lettuce, tomato, pickled shallots and reggiano aioli, but the big, eight-ounce patty within was hard, dry and even more inedibly salty than the shrimp.
Judging by a brussels sprouts and Parmesan soup du jour, the soups should be a good bet ($3.50 a cup, $6.50 a bowl). The caesar salad with a lemony tang was also exceptionally good, even though the flecks of prosciutto were almost undetectably tiny, a recurring problem with skimpiness in other dishes that describe bacon or prosciutto as ingredients.
Bruschettas come three to an order for $13, and were major disappointments. In the white bean, bacon and arugula topping, the bacon (which might have added some much needed flavour) was mere dots (even smaller than flecks) and the arugula was just a few token pieces of some kind of lettuce, too small to identify. A winey mushroom and goat-cheese topping was tasty, but the tomatoes paired with a few pieces of buffalo mozzarella and basil were far from ripe. Adding to the general disappointment was the base of cold, almost wafer-thin, dry and burnt-tasting bread.
There are only three desserts: affogato -- espresso flavoured ice cream -- which I didn't try ($4); fritters, which were simply big, fried dough balls with undercooked interiors ($8); and the Chocolate Five Ways, which is chocoholic heaven -- a luscious flourless brownie-like cake with chocolate cream, chocolate crumble and shaved-chocolate brittle ($10).
Service has varied from slow to well-paced, but was invariably pleasant. The wine list is short and pricey, with only a few available by the glass. Open daily from 7 a.m. to midnight weekdays, 1 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and breakfast (untested) is served to 11 a.m. weekdays and 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Note: The restaurant is located behind the Mere Hotel, and although it has wheelchair access, cars cannot drive to the door. There is no direct access from the street, and getting there involves either going through or around the hotel. There is street parking (if you're lucky); otherwise it's in an unpaved lot adjacent to the hotel's lot, about a five-minute walk.